Your weekly rundown of news and analysis about the corporate takeover of education, water, and other public goods—and about the people fighting back. Not a subscriber? Sign up.
- A pubilc school using the “community school” approach in Saranac Lake, NY, is proving to be a model for how schools should succeed. According to New York State United Teachers, for every $1 invested in the school, the return on investment is $14, double the national average.
- Voters in New Hampshire and Vermont roundly rejected school board candidates seeking to capitalize on culture wars and school privatization.
- In an extremely rare event, the Department of Homeland Security’s Inspector General has lambasted ICE and CoreCivic for their practices.
First, the good news…
1) National: Congress just rescued the Postal Service, which is bad news for American oligarchs like Charles Koch (net worth $61 billion according to Forbes). In the Public Interest’s Jeremy Mohler writes in the ITPI newsletter “the bill ensures mail is delivered six days a week, allows post offices to issue social security cards and hunting and fishing licenses, and more. But most importantly, it ends a requirement for the agency to pre-fund the health care of its future retirees, something private corporations and other federal agencies do not face.” Also, there’s another bill just introduced in Congress requiring that at least 75 percent of the USPS’ new trucks be electric vehicles. You can sign the petition to support it here.
2) National: Blood lead levels in children have resumed their downward trend, reports Tom Neltner of the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF). “It is clear we must strengthen our investments – we recently saw a good step in that direction with the $15 billion for lead pipe replacement in the Biden Administration’s successful infrastructure law. We also must strengthen our standards, including addressing the shortcomings of the Lead and Copper Rule and hazard standards for lead in paint, dust, and soil, and ensure compliance with these requirements as well as the Lead-Based Paint Renovation, Repair, and Painting Rule to avoid backsliding of the kind we saw in the 2015-16 cycle.”
3) National: As nurses quit, states are trying to train more. “Under pressure from short-staffed hospitals and burned-out nurses, lawmakers in several states recently passed bills designed to expand nursing schools,” Pew reports. “The new [Indiana] law drops limits on how fast two- and four-year nursing programs can grow, allows nursing schools to replace some required clinical hours with simulation hours—that’s training using mannequins, technology and role-playing—and allows two-year programs to hire more part-time faculty. A Kentucky bill, also Republican-sponsored, would lift limits on program growth and loosen the degree credentials required of nursing school faculty. Both the Kentucky and Indiana measures also would relax some nurse licensing rules. Meanwhile, New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, a Democrat, has approved a budget that sets aside $15 million in grants that nursing programs can use to expand enrollments and $30 million to endow nursing faculty positions.”
4) National: From More Perfect Union: “Amy’s Kitchen workers & activist allies are calling for a boycott of Amy’s products. Workers are organizing to end the brutal schedules & rapid production speeds that leave many with workplace injuries. The ‘progressive’ company threatened to close or sell if workers unionized.” The Daily Kos’ Laura Clawson reports that they are “working with the Teamsters to file a workplace safety complaint with Cal/OSHA.”
5) National: Writing in The Hill, John Logan, professor and Director of Labor and Employment Studies at San Francisco State University, says Starbucks is losing the war to keep its workers ununionized. “Starbucks now has two choices: it can either continue its misfiring war of attrition against pro-union employees and hope that the outcome changes; or, it can live up to its promise to treat employees like ‘partners’ and recognize their clear desire for a seat at the bargaining table. The union campaign is worrying not only Starbucks HQ but also other powerful non-union corporations nationwide. The self-organization of Starbucks’ young workers has provided both an inspiration for the broader labor movement as well as a model for how union revitalization might happen. In the words of one large law firm which specializes in fighting unions: ‘The unionizing wave at Starbucks has energized organized labor…. Union-free companies should take note.’”
6) National/New York: Some good news out of New York on regulation for the common good (h/t Food & Water Watch). “A federal appeals court denied ExxonMobil’s attempt to stop the attorneys general of New York and Massachusetts from investigating whether the company lied about its knowledge of climate change. The decision was handed down by the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan, which said Exxon couldn’t sue Massachusetts’ Attorney General Maura Healey because it was already doing so in the state court system, as reported by Reuters. The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York rejected a 2018 lawsuit Exxon had filed against New York, claiming the state violated the company’s rights for its investigations.”
7) Georgia: The Georgia Senate has rejected private school vouchers, aided by a number of Republican Senators who broke ranks to tank the bill. “Eight Republicans voted against the bill and four others left the floor, leaving Senate Bill 601 to fail on a 29-20 vote. The vote once again shows how a crucial fraction of rural Republicans resist many school choice proposals, along with all but a few Democrats.” Democrats “faulted the bill, saying few poor students could afford the difference between the subsidy amount and the cost of private school tuition. They also criticized the committee hearing process, where it passed without the usual public comment. No testimony from the public was taken at last week’s Senate Education and Youth Committee hearing, but teachers and other public school advocates have opposed such measures in the past, saying they drain money away from public schools.”
8) New Hampshire/Vermont: “Voters in New Hampshire and Vermont roundly rejected school board candidates seeking to capitalize on culture wars and school privatization. Small-minded, regressive ideologists lost; truth, honesty and democracy won.”
9) New York: A community school in Saranac Lake is proving to be a model for how schools should succeed. “Saranac Lake Central School District’s Community School is being hailed as a model example of the program—and one that state legislators and teachers unions want to replicate statewide. Leaders from the New York State United Teachers union, Assemblyman Billy Jones, D-Chateaugay Lake and representatives from local school districts met in Saranac Lake Thursday to advocate for the state to invest $100 million in its upcoming 2022-23 budget to expand the Community School program, offering more students and their families essential services through more school districts. ‘It’s thrilling,’ SLCSD Community Schools liaison Erika Bezio said.”
10) National: In the final part of a three part series in Salon on school privatization, Kathryn Joyce looks at how a welcome backlash against right wing school privatization efforts is underway in Tennessee and across the country. “In this three-part series, Salon looks at Hillsdale’s multifaceted and far-reaching role in shaping and disseminating the ideas and strategies that power the right. In our first installment, we met Hillsdale president Larry Arnn, a Winston Churchill scholar who led Trump’s short-lived 1776 Commission and has used his connections to right-wing thought leaders like Ginni Thomas and Betsy DeVos to turn his school into a political powerhouse. In the second installment, we explored the curriculum taught at Hillsdale and widely promoted through its national network of charter schools, which is informed by a deeply conservative understanding of American history, an “originalist” reading of the U.S. Constitution and an explicit desire to undo progressive educational reforms of the last 100 years.”
But “this time, things seem different: ‘Perhaps it’s the overreach, but I think it has awakened a lot of people to what the privatization movement is all about, which is not the well-being of students.’”
11) National: Tenure, one of the bedrocks of academic freedom, institutional integrity and job security in American higher education for generations, is under sustained attack by the right wing. “Over the past 82 years, it has protected faculty members throughout campus turbulence, including efforts to purge alleged communists during the McCarthy era of the 1950s and fire faculty members who supported desegregation and racial equality during the Civil Rights Movement in the 1950s and 1960s. But now tenure is facing threats to its survival, at least in some parts of the country, as Republican politicians in Texas and other states push to restrict or eliminate it. In many instances, the anti-tenure campaign fuses contempt for what Republican detractors often see as a privileged class of elitists in America’s colleges and universities with continuing efforts to restrict the teaching of race and sexual orientation in the classroom.”
12) Arizona: Activists are vowing to fight for school funding in the November elections. A state court has struck down a successful 2020 voter initiative that would have funded the schools with $1 billion in the face of a governor and state legislature hostile to public education. “Gloat over the demise of Arizona school funding,” says Beth Lewis, executive director of Save Our Schools Arizona. “We’ll rally voters in the fall.” The Invest in Arizona coalition, which brought the measure to the 2020 ballot, “aimed its criticism at the state Supreme Court, which created the roadmap that led to Hannah’s decision. The court prioritized Republican lawmakers over Arizona citizens, the group said in a statement.”
13) California: The Sacramento City Teachers Association and Service Employees International Union 102, representing educators and staff with the Sacramento City Unified School District, have set a strike date for this Wednesday over short-staffing and other issues. “The unions say the district is currently short 250 teachers, 100 substitutes and an additional 400 classified staffing positions for jobs such as school bus drivers, custodians and instructional aides. ‘We constantly lose people. They are being recruited by Elk Grove, by San Juan, part of it is working conditions, it’s easier to work at those other places because you don’t have so many outside things are battling against,’ said ninth-grade biology teacher, Shana Just.”
14) Minnesota: Classes have been canceled today for all schools in the Minneapolis Public Schools district after no deal was reached between the district and the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers. The strike continues. “Natasha Dockter, a spokesperson for Minneapolis Federation of Teachers, responded to the offer saying the two sides are getting closer, but negotiations are still ongoing. ‘While we appreciate MPS getting to where they are, we know they can get to $35,000 for ESP. It won’t take much more on their part to settle this strike and get our students and educators back to school. We believe we can get this done,’ Dockter said in a statement. ‘We need the school board to do better by those who have waited so long for this needed correction. We also know MPS can do better to recruit and retain educators of color, reduce class sizes, add mental health supports, and create stability for our students by proposing competitive pay for licensed staff. Our members are ready to hold the line until we get there.’”
15) Tennessee: Gov. Bill Lee’s new education spending plan is running into some problems, reports WKRN. “The ‘Tennessee Investment in Student Achievement’ is the governor’s new plan to direct per-student funding. But questions remain among Republicans and Democrats over the long-term effect of the massive restructuring. The ‘TISA’ debate is expected to intensify over the few remaining weeks left in the 112th General Assembly. “It’s going to take a long discussion, the committee members want to take their time and have discussions—there was an amendment that was dropped early this week for the administration they wanted time to look through that, compare it to the direction that they want to go, compared to what the previous direction was from the governor’s office,” Republican House Speaker Cameron Sexton said. Democrats are calling on the majority party and the governor’s office to slow down amid rapid changes. “Some of the things Bill Lee is talking about and some of our colleagues across the aisle are talking about sound good, but they’re not in the bill and they’re not funded in the bill and they’re not funded through any other channels,” said Rep. John Ray Clemmons (D-Nashville) who is chairing the caucus’s education funding study committee.”
In an email to supporters, Carol Burris of Network for Public Education Action is urging people to “Tell Legislators to Vote No on the Governor’s Backpack School Funding Bill: The Gateway to Charter and Voucher Full Funding.” She says, “Governor Lee is trying to ram through a new school funding formula designed by the right-wing think tank ALEC. Known as TISA this ‘student-centered’ funding bill (HB 2143 and SB 2396) would have tax dollars ‘follow the child.’ Although on the surface that might seem sensible, it can quickly be transformed into an ESA voucher with money going to charter schools and private schools in amounts equal to what flows to public schools. There are so many questions about TISA that are unanswered. Friends of public education are asking why is this massive rush to change school funding occurring so quickly? TISA is a proposal to spend $1 billion and yet it is unclear where all of that money is going or how it will impact local budgets. We do know that the local match for 32 districts will increase in the first year. How many more districts will have to raise property taxes as a result of TISA?”
For more see the Tennessee Public Education Coalition.
16) Florida: Details about what led to the federal criminal indictment of two former JEA officials for using underhand methods to try to privatize the utility are gushing out. Writing in the Jacksonville Daily Record, Mike Mendenhall recounts a saga of “secret spreadsheets” and a “false death spiral” of the company which was supposed to justify privatization. “Federal prosecutors allege in the indictment that Zahn began planning to seek the sale of JEA in or around 2018 before he was named the utility’s permanent CEO. Mayor Lenny Curry appointed Zahn to the JEA board of directors and City Council approved him in February 2018. He stepped down from the board less than two months later and was named interim CEO by the JEA board in April 2018. He took the job full-time in November 2018. Zahn was selected over a field of longtime utility executives despite, as stated in the indictment, him having ‘no experience in a major public utility.’” [Read the indictment].
Read also the account of the Florida Times-Union’s dogged investigation of the scandal, which shows what an essential role good investigative reporting can play in battling against the plunder of public assets and services under the rubric of efficiency and cost. “I count my blessings every day that we had such a team when our community needed them most. And I remain grateful that we have a community that continues to support investigative journalism,” writes Mary Kelli Palka, executive editor of the Florida Times-Union. “There are still a lot of unanswered questions in this JEA saga. After the sale was called off on Christmas Eve 2019, I told you we would continue digging. I know our efforts since then continued to make a difference for JEA, its employees and its ratepayers. I’m just as confident there’s more work to do now.”
17) New York: Here we go again. After a disastrous experience with privatized power (including a terrible response to Hurricane Sandy), Wall Street and property developers are calling for the Long Island Power Authority to be turned over to private equity. But legislators are pushing back, “announcing state Assembly and Senate budget bills calling for $2 million in appropriations to create a commission to study and implement a fully public LIPA. The Long Island Power Authority also has weighed in against studying the sale of the utility. LIPA says such a review could temporarily lock the agency out of the tax-exempt bond market, as happened twice in the past. ‘Inclusion of this commission in the Senate and Assembly … budgets is the first step to municipalizing Long Island’s power grid and bringing affordable, reliable power to the island,’ said Senate sponsor Jim Gaughran (D-Northport).”
18) International: English water companies are facing a probe over sewage treatment, the Financial Times reports. “Five of the largest water companies in England face further investigation after the regulator raised ‘serious concerns’ over their sewage treatment. All 11 water companies in England and Wales submitted reports in December to Ofwat, the industry regulator, on their waste water operations. Anglian Water, Northumbrian Water, Thames Water, Wessex Water and Yorkshire Water—which together cover around half of England and Wales or 32.7mn customers — now face further ‘enforcement action,’ Ofwat announced on Wednesday. It added that five of the other regional water monopolies were still being looked into and could face further investigation. Fines can be up to 10 per cent of annual turnover for civil cases, or unlimited in criminal proceedings.” [Sub required]
Criminal Justice and Immigration
19) National: In an extremely rare event, and after years of complaints and lawsuits over how ICE’s privatized detention system is treating detainees, the Department of Homeland Security’s Inspector General has lambasted ICE and CoreCivic for their practices in what it calls a “Management Alert.” The Washington Post quotes the report as saying “we recommend the Acting Director of ICE immediately relocate all detainees from Torrance County Detention Facility and place no detainees there unless and until the facility ensures adequate staffing and appropriate living conditions.” The DHS IG is Joseph V. Cuffari. [Read the whole report].
“‘We are shocked but not surprised by the findings in the OIG report describing dangerous, unsanitary and inhumane conditions at the Torrance County Detention Facility,’ Rebecca Sheff, senior staff attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico, said in a statement. ‘We call upon ICE to immediately release, not transfer, all the people detained there, so they can reunite with their loved ones and receive the community-based resources and care they urgently need.’”
20) Arizona: As the public waits for a court ruling, Justin Stabley, a digital editor at the PBS NewsHour, has written a good history and chronology of legal issues with Arizona’s privatized prison healthcare system. “When contacted by PBS NewsHour, ADCRR declined to comment on the case. The Newshour also reached out to Centurion, the current health care provider for Arizona prisons, who requested a list of questions, but did not respond after receiving them. (…) The case against the ADCRR is not the only legal action against a prison system, but it is exceptional because it covers an entire state prison system where officials have not implemented changes that were ordered in the previous settlement, according to Betsy Ginsberg, a professor at the Cardozo School of Law. ‘It’s a huge case and it covers an entire system. And it’s a system that has resisted reform of its medical practices for so many years,’ Ginsburg said. Ginsberg believes that the Arizona case could be “the tip of the iceberg” when it comes to health care issues in prisons across the country.”
21) Pennsylvania: Delaware County has reopened on-site visitation at the George W. Hill Correctional Center as efforts continues towards the April 6 county takeover. “In addition, county officials continue to gear up for the April 6 transition. The county moved to private operators in 1998 and is currently operated by GEO Group Inc. In moving to taking over the operations, several services are earmarked to be provided by outside vendors. ‘Health care services successfully transitioned to WellPath on March 6,’ Williams said. ‘We did that at 12:01 a.m. and IT staff was there to make sure that that happened for us.’ The food service is on schedule to transition March 20 and commissary will begin taking orders April 4.”
Now that it’s under public control, the facility will be turning toward a special emphasis on mental health under its new warden. “Laura Williams, 36, spent six years in various roles at the Allegheny County Jail outside Pittsburgh, including three as its chief deputy warden. During her time there, she oversaw the facility’s drug treatment program, drawing on experience she gained in her previous career as a substance-abuse counselor.”
22) California/National: Support volunteers are working with detainees at Mesa Verde to provide advice on COVID-19 vaccinations. “Turner-Lloveras, who specializes in internal medicine, fields questions like these once a week as a volunteer physician for the Covid-19 Vaccine Education & Empowerment in Detention program, or VEED, a collaboration between the California Collaborative for Immigrant Justice and the Latino Coalition Against COVID-19, an organization he co-founded. They launched the program last April to provide vaccine education to immigrants who have been arrested for being in the U.S. without proper documentation and are awaiting a court hearing or deportation.”
23) National/Pennsylvania: A major battle has broken out over responsible contracting in Allentown. “At Wednesday night’s council meeting, council voted to hold the special meeting March 31. Although council did not vote on the ordinance, several people spoke during public comment urging council members to reject it. The ordinance narrowly passed last month in a 4-3 vote, but it did not become law because Mayor Matt Tuerk did not sign it. The controversial part of the ordinance requires contractors to have an apprenticeship program in place for employees for at least five years. At the meeting last month, dozens of people flooded the meeting to speak in favor or against the ordinance. Supporters say the ordinance would create better working conditions and foster workforce development in Allentown. Critics said it unfairly favors union contractors—most unionized contractors have the required apprenticeship program, but only some non-union shops do—and would increase costs for the city. Council members Cynthia Mota, Candida Affa and Daryl Hendricks voted against it.”
The City Council advanced an amended version of the responsible contracting ordinance. “The changes include raising the threshold on contractors bidding on city projects from the previous over-$100,000 amount to more than $200,000. Contractors bidding on projects over that $200,000 threshold will have to offer apprenticeship programs conforming to U.S. Department of Labor standards.” [Bill 16 original version]
Separately, Bucks County adopted a responsible contracting ordinance on March 4, 2020, and voted on proposed amendments last Wednesday.
24) National/Kansas: Writing in Jacobin, Suzanne Gordon and Steve Early say the VA needs more funding, not more privatization. President Biden “informed Congress that, under his leadership, the VA was now ‘pioneering new ways of linking toxic exposures to disease’ and “helping more veterans get benefits” for respiratory conditions related to their military service. He proposed legislation to further insure that ‘veterans devastated by toxic exposures in Iraq and Afghanistan finally get the benefits and the comprehensive healthcare that they deserve.’ Missing from the second part of that commitment—and crucial to fulfilling it—was any mention of much needed investment in the physical infrastructure of the VA-run Veterans Health Administration (VHA). Like the public roads, bridges, and municipal water systems that the Biden administration is so eager to repair and upgrade, many of the VHA’s 171 medical centers and 1,112 outpatient sites are candidates for modernization.”
In a letter to the editor of the Kansas City Star, Ace Allen of Overland Park takes the news site to task for negatively biased reporting about the Veterans Administration. “The VA health system deserves a balanced insider’s view in another article. That said, it stands proudly at the forefront of American medicine. Multiple studies have shown that in my area, cancer care, screening, early detection, outcomes and patient satisfaction at the VA are as good as or better than any other system in the country—at significantly reduced cost. It has the country’s best electronic medical records system, enjoys powerful economies of scale unmatched in the private sector and provides care, medications and treatments often denied to patients in the private sector.
“The article’s author clearly never spent a day in a busy VA clinic or spoke with practitioners — some of the country’s finest and most dedicated and compassionate. They are indeed worried about defunding the VA — not because of threats to their jobs, but because outsourcing to private care leads to worse outcomes, much greater expense and unhappy patients who generally prefer care at the VA.”
25) Florida: Action News Jax “found glaring holes in two of the city’s three contracts with its haulers. Those holes played a big part in the suspension of curbside recycling and the many missed pick-ups. Had the city included certain terms in those two contracts, experts and contract attorneys say it would have given Jacksonville more control over its haulers’ hiring practices. Because those clauses weren’t included, the city didn’t have the power to push those contractors when it really mattered.”
In the Public Interest’s Research and Policy Director Shar Habibi looked closely at Jacksonville’s waste contracts in a study, Action News reports. “Habibi says, “At the heart of waste pickup is the workforce and so ensuring the contract has very specific provisions around the workforce is really important.” The two contracts in question are the one for Advanced Disposal—now owned by Waste Management and Waste Pro. Habibi’s findings are broken into four categories: control, good management, workforce stability, and environmental and community issues. They aim to ensure strong contract language. ‘It allows the city to hold the contractor accountable.’ Habibi says, ‘it’s important because you want the city to have levers to be able to force the contractor to be able to do what they need to do in order to provide the service.’ But she says the city’s two contracts only have one of the seven provisions for workforce stability: a nondiscrimination clause. Things like staffing levels and living wage requirements are missing. She says, ‘including these types of provisions really ensures the city contains control over the service and mitigates the risks of these types of service.’”
26) New Hampshire/Vermont: Senators Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Maggie Hassan (D-NH), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), and Patrick Leahy (D-VT) have called on the Secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) “to forgo any actions that would limit veterans’ ability to get their VA care at VA facilities in New Hampshire or Vermont. The letter follows the VA releasing its recommendations for the Asset and Infrastructure Review (AIR) Commission.” The Senators wrote, “While we are relieved that the recommendations recognize the value of the White River Junction and Manchester VA Medical Centers, we believe that VA services in our states should be bolstered, not reduced. The current recommendations risk moving towards privatization and decreased access to VA care for veterans.
27) International: Health Coalitions across Ontario are holding Emergency Summits this month by Zoom to build the biggest fight-back they’ve ever mounted against privatization. Natalie Mehra, Executive Director of the Ontario Health Coalition, says a move to privatization would be siphoning off much needed funding for public hospitals and staff. “Desperately needed staff to hospitals that really only serve the profitable patients, the ones that are in and out, quick and easy. And what lots of people don’t realize is that the lightest, easiest care patients subsidize the heavier care, more complex patients in the public hospitals.” The Windsor Health Coalition will be hosting its Zoom event on Wednesday, March 30 at 7:00 p.m.”
28) National/Puerto Rico: Puerto Rico finally exited bankruptcy last week after a grueling process. It will now “resume billion-dollar payments to bondholders for the first time in several years, settle some $1 billion worth of claims filed by residents and local businesses and issue more than $10 billion worth of bonds. The government also will restore up to $1.3 billion taken from a public pension system.”
As Mercedes Martínez and Monique Dols explain in Truthout, the movement to defend pensions sparked an educator uprising in Puerto Rico. “For years politicians have claimed that there are no funds available to pay for salary increases or the retirement of Puerto Rican educators. The crushing debt that Washington has imposed through the dictatorial Financial Oversight and Management Board—known in Puerto Rico as ‘la junta’ — has been used again and again as an excuse to legitimize the privatization and decimation of public sector pensions and to indefinitely postpone raises for educators and other public sector workers. (…) What started out as a spirited defense of public worker pensions grew into the largest work stoppage of educators in the last 10 years in Puerto Rico, with 90 percent of educators calling in sick, and more than 45,000 educators, other public sector workers and entire school communities marching on the capital on February 9.”
29) National: Bill Lucia of Route Fifty reports that new data show a major gender gap in local government leadership. “As workplaces roll out new hybrid work policies, there is an opportunity to reduce stress and burnout, thereby increasing gender equity and inclusion, but we must be intentional in how we design these policies or we risk importing old biases and barriers into our new hybrid work arrangements, Correll stresses. Here, Correll shares some of the insights she’s gleaned from her discussions with organizations from across the country and some of her concerns that, if not done right, hybrid work could potentially roll back diversity and inclusion.”
Photo by Allison Shelley/The Verbatim Agency for EDUimages